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By Gloria Nicola

The kids are cute. The eyewear is adorable. The POP is fun. But kids’ eyewear is not just fun and games. It’s serious business and an essential part of the optical market. The buying power of kids and the parents who buy for them is huge.

According to respondents to 20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2011, children from infancy to 14 years old represented 15 percent of their customer base in the past year, the same as in the previous year. Children’s eyewear and related products also accounted for 15 percent of total gross dollar sales for survey participants—the same as it has since 2008. But perhaps reflecting some improvement in the economy, 31 percent indicated an increase in total gross sales from children’s products in the past year versus five years ago, a slight increase from the 28 percent reported last year; 11 percent of the respondents said they saw a decline, down from 18 percent in 2010. Also according to the 2011 survey, 47 percent of the reporting retailers said their average children’s complete eyewear retail sale per patient has increased in the past year versus five years ago. Only 8 percent indicated a decline. Interestingly, the median retail sale ($129) for kids’ frames (excluding exams, lenses and lens treatments), has remained the same since 2009 for survey respondents. On the other hand, the median retail price for children’s spectacle lenses, which remained steady at $100 between 2006 and 2009,  climbed to $105 in 2010 and rose again this year to $110.

What’s selling to this market? With lenses, the material of choice is clearly polycarbonate—undoubtedly as a result of eyecare professionals’ ongoing efforts to inform parents about the necessity of impact-resistant materials. Of those surveyed, more than half (54 percent) reported polycarbonate lenses comprised a greater proportion of total children’s eyewear dollars than they did five years ago; only 8 percent reported a decrease. In addition, 50 percent of participants reported a decrease over the past five years in the sale of standard plastic lenses for children; 5 percent cited an increase.

With frame materials, we continue to see a shift toward plastic, following the trend in the adult market. Metal is still generally preferred for children because of its easier adjustability. But plastic has been showing substantial gains in kids’ eyewear sales. Of those surveyed this year, 57 percent reported an increase in frame dollar sales attributed to plastic materials in the past five years, a substantial increase over the 47 percent citing an increase last year, and up sharply from 29 percent cited in 2006. Only 15 percent reported an increase in dollar sales from metal frames, a major decline from the 55 percent indicated in 2006.


Another growth area in the children’s market and a very important one is in protective sport eyewear—again influenced both by eyecare professionals’ ongoing efforts to inform parents about the necessity of protective eyewear and also the increasing interest in sport eyewear among adults. The vast majority of retailers surveyed, 90 percent, reported selling protective sport eyewear to children. Additionally, 79 percent said they dispense contact lenses to kids—an option especially for children active in sports. 

Although not as dominant as in the adult market, branded names are another category that has an impact on the kids’ market. Those participating in the children’s survey reported 30 percent of their total children’s frame sales was in branded/licensed frames, up from 25 percent in 2010. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents said the percentage of their total children’s frame dollar sales volume attributed to branded/licensed frames was up compared with five years ago. For 59 percent, the frame dollar sales volume stayed the same. Other findings also confirmed branding does play a role in the children’s market. Of those surveyed, 44 percent said name brands were very important to their child patients; an additional 44 percent reported that brands were somewhat important. However, only 24 percent cited brands as being of major significance to the parents.


An area that would definitely benefit by taking more direction from the adult market is sunwear. Unfortunately, despite the necessity of sun protection for every age group, selling sunwear to kids continues to be a challenge for ECPs. Indeed 53 percent of respondents cited it as a major challenge. An additional 40 percent viewed it as a minor challenge and only 7 percent said it was no challenge at all. The main reason for these findings is undoubtedly parents’ reluctance to spend money on eyewear likely to be lost or forgotten. Fortunately, there is some good news. Of those surveyed this year, 81 percent said they sell sunwear to children and 92 percent dispense frames with photochromic lenses to kids. In fact, photochromics were the favored sun option for children with 68 percent of this year’s respondents reporting it was the sunwear product they sold most to children—no doubt because it doesn’t involve buying another frame and is also at lower risk for being lost since the eyewear does not have to be removed when inside. Although only 15 percent of the participants indicated Rx sunwear complete was the sun product sold most to kids, this is a decided increase from the 6 percent cited last year. Plano sunglasses and sun clips were the sun products dispensed the most to children by just 13 percent and 5 percent, respectively, of the survey respondents.


Although dispensing sunwear was the major challenge most cited by participants in working with children, a variety of other challenges specific to the kids’ market also exist. Most notably: two sets of customers per visit—the parents and the child—frequently with widely varying tastes and priorities, including budget considerations. Of those polled, 29 percent saw matching kids’ tastes with parents’ budget restrictions a major challenge; 56 percent reported it as a minor challenge. For 17 percent of the respondents, getting parents and children to agree on what eyewear to purchase was a major challenge; and for 61 percent, it was a minor challenge.

In fact, 63 percent of the participants reported the major consideration in selecting eyewear for their child customers is a broad range of color options, and an additional 36 percent said color was somewhat important. On the other hand, only 35 percent indicated color was very important to the parents. By far the most important factor for parents, understandably, was durability and functionality (cited by 90 percent as very important and the remaining 10 percent as somewhat important).


20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2011 was conducted in April of 2011 by Jobson Optical Research’s in-house research staff. The 2011 sample of 289 independent optical retailers, who sell to children as well as other age groups, was derived from the proprietary Jobson Optical Research database. Only the responses of dispensers who sell eyewear to children were included in the report. The 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 studies were conducted online where participants were recruited by e-mail and the questionnaire was completed via the Internet. Respondents were offered the chance to enter a drawing to win a $200 American Express gift card as an incentive. For more information or to purchase the complete 2011 Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey, go to or contact

—Jennifer Zupnick
Senior Research Analyst
Jobson Optical Research

What can manufacturers and vendors do to help ECPs meet the challenges in building their kids’ business? An abundance of fun and highly functional kids’ products is available. Just check the pages in this issue. And manufacturers and vendors continue to partner with retailers to offer marketing tools. The most effective method, according to 36 percent of those surveyed, is point-of-purchase materials, followed by special promotions, cited by 28 percent. Additionally, survey respondents feel offering warranties on children’s eyewear is an essential part of the package, with 87 percent indicating warranties are very important to the parents of their child customers and another 12 percent saying warranties are somewhat important.

According to this survey, no dramatic changes took place in children’s eyewear in the past year. This category continues to grow and evolve like the market it serves. But it will take time and energy on the part of the optical community before it matures into the business it needs to be… because it is our future and the future of eyewear. ■